Every summer, a local grocery chain in Germany has an ‘America’ week, where food items resembling those from my homeland are grouped together for a quick browse and grab and go. Each year, I browse the American food. Here I find almost every item labeled with the stars and stripes, like the ‘Traditional Barbeque* Marshmallows,’ but almost every item’s place of manufacture lies within the European Union. Take these marshmallows, for example: a product of Belgium. I must admit, they taste BETTER than American marshmallows, although they have the same soft, powdery exterior, are white and spongy and sweet, they also taste like vanilla. The vanilla is new for me. I used to consider American marshmallows just pure white sugar taste. Belgian marshmallows are really tastier!
But some other American food in this grocery store just doesn’t totally fulfill my occasional longing for rare items from home. Where is the Libby’s pumpkin in a can? The last time I ate a slice of pumpkin pie, made with Carnation evaporated milk and Libby’s pumpkin puree, was almost a decade ago. That strange dry baked pumpkin texture and the glossy rust orange top of the pumpkin pie…can’t be replicated in Germany because, my store doesn’t know that canned pumpkin puree is a staple in American kitchens. Where is the moist, sandy brown sugar? Not the table sugar that is brown and doesn’t cling together when you take a handful of it in your palm and squeeze. Where are the Nestle chocolate chips? The Aunt Jemima anything from maple syrup to pancake mixes? Nope. Cracker Jacks? Plain old Kellogg’s Rice Crispies (to make marshmallow treats)? No. Buy a ticket to America and shop girl, ’cause you are out of luck during the German grocery store’s America week.
What is there? Heinz ketchup. I didn’t miss that though. Multi-flavored jelly beans, a European copy of Jelly Belly Beans are ok. Peanut butter in creamy and chunky, both taste like what I’d find at home. But these vanilla flavored blueberry muffins? No. The brownies? Not chewy at all but some kind of quickly dissolving fluffy chocolate cake square and there are no walnuts here. Tortillas. Fine. But where is the green salsa for these tortilla chips? I only see red.
Moving on to things that seem American, I must mention how many customers I see wearing Uncle Sam brand sweatshirts and T-shirts with, you know it, Uncle Sam, with his long goat like face and that indicative index finger indicating YOU yes YOU, are the real American and the wearer of these clothes is 99% guaranteed not to hold an American passport in Germany. How many New York Yankee baseball caps have I seen, to the exclusion of all other teams’ caps here? My sister, a Bostonian now, offered to send Red Sox caps, just to add some variety to the market. Maybe I could sell them at my local farmer’s market? But no one plays baseball in Germany.
How about those American flag neck scarves, made of some polyester blend fluff and draped around German ladies’ necks? What’s that about? Are they liking the red, white and blue colors or is this supposed to indicate ‘I’m a fan of the USA’ or just ‘I wish I was there, not here’ or what? These scarves are all over Germany. Then the T-shirts with Route 66 or various US college names or town names even. One day I asked a kid, wearing a San Diego T-shirt if he knew what state San Diego was in. He had no clue. I ask people wearing these T-shirts what year they graduated from said college. They look confused back at me. It occurs to me that many customers a) don’t know what they are wearing b) don’t know what their shirt says. Sometimes I’ll tell a customer, ‘I like what your T-shirt says,’ and the person doesn’t know what it says, translated to German. Some shirts are very positive and say simple things like ‘Happy Girl.’ Which brings me to a good point: be careful about wearing clothes with ‘hip’ looking foreign languages on them, if you don’t know what it says, don’t go walking around in it, thinking no one will notice you are wearing a dumb phrase across your chest. There are many grammatically incorrect T-shirts printed in English circulating in Germany. They make me smile but…you shouldn’t have to wear grammatically incorrect T-shirts in English in Germany.
There are American flag printed key chains and purses, I am not sure why a German wants to carry these around. To look American, perhaps? Why that? I highly doubt that an American in Germany would wear the American flag in any shape or form. It seems stupid to do so, to me at least. I don’t see Germans wearing their flag as a polyester blend scarf, so what’s with my country’s flag?
As an American in Germany, I think the American food thing and the American clothes with an American flag print at least are verging on lame. It is sweetly sad to see that a grocery chain tries to cater to a population that still dreams of a trip to, if not immigration to, America, but with food they most likely could only find in, well, Germany or the EU countries. Remember the Belgian marshmallows? Imagine going to America in search of marshmallows and discovering that they don’t taste like they ‘should,’ like ones back ‘home,’ in Germany? Those Traditional Barbeque Marshmallows with nice vanilla flavor.
*how it’s spelled on the package at least